Category: Stories

With the upcoming 20/20 Special with Sue Klebold a lot of Columbine survivors have been speaking up and sharing their thoughts within our community. One thing that comes up is the inaccuracy and manipulation of previous “Special Reports” through out the years. Something that caught my eye while discussing this with others today, was an open letter a survivor of the Columbine shooting who is now in a wheel chair received from Sue and Tom Klebold. She wrote this post on her Facebook page and it was something that I wanted to share because it makes me think about what happened to us Columbine Survivors, but it also makes me think about how I myself, feel about the parents of the Dylan and Eric.

Anne Marie

Dear Sue Klebold,
I was injured at Columbine High School in 1999. As you know, your son Dylan, and his classmate, Eric Harris, killed 13 people and then themselves. You are releasing a book called, “A Mother’s Reckoning”, and are appearing tomorrow on the TV program 20/20 to talk about what happened and what your son did. I have only two instances to form an opinion on you and they are as follows:

1. You and your husband wrote me a letter a few months after I was paralyzed saying how sorry you were. It was genuine and personal. The Harris letter, on the other hand, was four sentences long on a folder up piece of paper, and was cold and robotic. To refresh your memory, it read like this:
“Dear Anne Marie,
Our prayers have been with you each day as we read about the terrible ordeal you and your family have experienced. We read that you had been transferred to Craig Hospital, and we were so thankful that you had progressed to the point where you could enter a rehabilitation facility. Though we have never met, our lives are forever linked through this tragedy that has brought unspeakable heartbreak to our families and our community. With deepest humility we apologize for the role our son, Dylan, had in causing the suffering you and your family have endured. Your recovery process will be a long and difficult road, and we hope that the support of people all over the world will help you find strength and courage as you meet the many challenges you have yet to face. When we read reports of your progress, we marvel at your resolve. It is still terribly difficult for us to believe that the son we knew could play a role in causing harm to you and others. The reality that he shared in the responsibility for this senseless tragedy is beyond our comprehension. We offer our love, support, and service as you and your family work to gain control over your lives. May God watch over you during your recovery process and beyond. May each day bring you successes, however small, that bring you hope and encouragement.
Sincerely,
Sue and Tom Klebold

2. I was contacted by ABC to comment for the 20/20 special and they told me that any proceeds from your book (aside from publisher’s costs) will go to helping those with mental illness. Six months after Columbine happened, my mother, Carla, committed suicide. She was already suffering from depression so the shootings didn’t directly cause her to do what she did, but it certainly didn’t help. It means a lot to me that you wouldn’t keep those proceeds for yourself, but to help others that suffer from mental illness.

I think it’s appropriate that the program that you are appearing on is named “20/20”. Hindsight is truly 20/20 and I’m sure you have agonized over what you could have done differently. I know, because I do the same thing with trying to think of ways I could have prevented my mother’s death. I have no ill-will towards you. Just as I wouldn’t want to be judged by the sins of my family members, I hold you in that same regard. It been a rough road for me, with many medical issues because of my spinal cord injury and intense nerve pain, but I choose not to be bitter towards you. A good friend once told me, “Bitterness is like swallowing a poison pill and expecting the other person to die.” It only harms yourself. I have forgiven you and only wish you the best.
Sincerely,

Anne Marie Hochhalter

Card Front

Card Open

 

One of the things I have often heard from other survivors is that they had no idea we existed. However, once they join our group they feel immediate relief that someone understands what they are going through. The beauty of The Rebels Project is that we have so many members; each with their own story and unique perspective, so once someone joins, they are able to find someone who they can connect with. Unfortunately, these connections are usually forged over the internet. We aim to raise funds to bring survivors together so they can meet in person, so they can deepen those instant bonds that will last a lifetime and keep them from feeling alone during dark times.

Please help us connect survivors by donating to our cause.

For the past two summers The Rebels Project has hosted a meetup that included survivors from Columbine High School, Aurora Movie Theater, Washington Navy Yard, Azana Spa, and teens from Newtown, Connecticut.

The group began the meetups at the Columbine Memorial and proceeded to have dinner at a local restaurant. These meetups have been rich opportunities to share hugs, stories, and encouragement. Planning for larger events which will include more survivors is in process! Meeting up physically is energizing, encouraging and helpful in the healing/recovery process.

My friend Michelle and I recently went to a slam poetry workshop which included Columbine Survivors, Aurora Theatre survivors, and Arapahoe High School survivors. We weren’t sure how many people would show up, if anyone would be willing to write, nor how we were going to react.

We sat in a coffee shop at a long table. On one end were the Arapahoe students and a few teachers, and on the other were Columbine graduates and Aurora community members.  The Rebels Project has been meeting once a month in Aurora for over a year now, so we are like family. I’m not sure how it was for our Aurora friends, but as I sat at that long wooden table as the coffee machines crushed and ground various beans in the other room, I felt…dazed and shaken. I couldn’t figure it out.  I’ve been meeting and talking with other survivors for almost two years now, why is this meeting affecting me this way?

 

Michelle filled me in on her thoughts:

We were staring across the table into a time warp.  This was us 14 years ago. Sometimes I can’t believe how long it has been…

And so the conversation began. We all introduced  ourselves and explained why we were there.  Almost everyone was there to write, and even though I’m an English teacher I was hesitant to write.  What would I say?  How on Earth could I focus on just one thing?  Half of these people were strangers to me and, basically, I was scared. And all while my emotions were in some kind of turmoil that I couldn’t get a handle on…

It turned out it was easier than I thought. We had about an hour long conversation where  we shared thoughts, stories, and feelings. I won’t detail our conversation, but I will say that one of the most moving things  I experienced was after I shared a personal story about hearing a fire alarm for the first time after the shootings.  I’ve told that story before, hoping to prepare others for times when a memory triggers an uncontrollable reaction, but what moved me was one of the Arapahoe students simply saying:

“thank you for sharing that” and I saw that she truly meant it. I saw understanding in her eyes, and the nods from around the table.

I immediately felt comforted.  I was among friends and family.  I was in a safe space where others would understand my confusion, my emotions, my turmoil. There are others out there, and even though the “You are Not Alone” motto has been the driving force behind all the community outreach we do, sometimes a simple reminder can make all the difference in the world.  We are a family of survivors and here is what I wrote during our 30 minute writing time:

 

How Can You Sit on That Bench?

(Title credits go to Jovan Mays and the Arapahoe student who asked that question)

How can you sit on that bench?  Do you know what happened there? Yes, yes, I’m sure you’ve heard about what happened there, but do you know what happened there?

I do.  I know it all the time.  I know what it feels like to know death is coming; booming down the halls. I know what it feels like to look for exits everywhere I go, and what it feels like to have some long-forgotten memory trigger emotions that I don’t feel like explaining…even though  I have to because I love you and I want you to understand when I tell you “I can’t do this right now. I’m sorry”

How can you go grocery shopping, go out to dinner, hang out with friends?

How can you smile or breathe?

But the normalcy is so soothing. It’s not a big deal and I’m good and I don’t want to talk about it and I just want to go on with life.  Just leave me alone with my Bruce Springsteen albums and I’ll be fine. If I want to talk about it, I will.

Oh how I wish now I had talked about it more…or even better, written about it.  I’d like to go back and see what I was like.

The memories are so fragmented.  And every once in a while, one pops up at the most inopportune time. And I find myself (again) saying “I’m sorry.”

I’m not broken and I don’t need to be fixed.  I am me and this is me, but please take all of me into consideration when I ask, “how can you sit on that bench?”

For the 15th anniversary Jennifer and I did an interview with a very understanding journalist by the name of Jon Schuppe. We think he did a wonderful job detailing how The Rebels Project was started, and though the focus is on the class of ’99, and how the theme of “you are not alone” is very prevalent. Please take the time to read about us!

NBC News Article

On Sunday April 20th it was 15 years since the tragedy at Columbine happened. 15 years seems like such a long time but to some, memories do now fade and feelings come rushing back like raging rivers. Fellow student Sam Granillo started a project a few years ago called Columbine: Wounded Minds doing a documentary talking to Columbine survivors as well as other people affected by mass violence and tragedy.

On the 15th Anniversary of Columbine Sam took off on a journey with the help of Dateline NBC to visit other schools touched by the hand of violence. We applaud Sam on his continued growth, determination, and strive to not only help himself but help others. We at the Rebels Project are proud to be apart of his journey.

Dateline Special
http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/columbine-15-years-later/full-episode-road-home-n86186

The Avielle Foundation is a non-profit based out of Newtown, CT and was named after Avielle Richman, one of the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT. The Avielle Foundation is hosting a 5K event at Clement Park here in Littleton, CO on August 25th, 2013 and has asked The Rebels Project and Phoenix 999 to partner with them.   Jeremy Richman will be participating in the run and would like to extend his gratitude to the Colorado community for their support.

The Rebels Project is partnered with and supported by Phoenix 999, a non-profit made up of Columbine survivors. The Rebels Project is the main partner of their community outreach program. Any financial needs The Rebels Project has, Phoenix 999 works to provide it.

The Rebels Project will play a big part in volunteering and helping spread the word amongst our Rebel family, Columbine community, Aurora family, and others who follow our mission.  Remember that when the hype goes away and the media moves on, there are still survivors that need your ongoing support. Here in Colorado, Connecticut, Virginia, Ohio, and countless other communities that have been affected by mass tragedy the rebuilding process continues.  We are all bonded together forever and The Rebels Project and Phoenix 999 along with The Avielle Foundation share a vision of hope and healing.  Please join us Sunday August 25th, 2013 and show your support by donating to the silent auction, volunteering, participating, or even by helping us spread the word.

You can make a difference.
To participate in the event or get more detailed information, please visit: http://www.aviellefoundation.org/events/brainstorming5k/

If you or someone you love is having a hard time coping with the effects of mass tragedy, please visit The Rebels Project: Support for Those in Need Facebook page and ask to join this private group.

Stop by Phoenix999.org and read up on their mission statement and efforts.

Thank you for taking the time to visit our site,
Heather Egeland
Co-founder of The Rebels Project and Phoenix 999 Board member

Event Calender Information

It’s always weird for me to call it an anniversary. When I think of anniversaries I think of happy occasions. But my first anniversary after Columbine was a hard one. The whole week leading up to April 20th was full of special reports, asinine interviews, and anything else they could pollute the airwaves with. Not something I wanted to watch but it saturated the airwaves so much you couldn’t stay away from all of it. News media today seems a little better but we never really had to deal with social media which is an animal on its own.

I worked at a call center here in Littleton and it was definitely a different day I guess you can say. Headed to work feeling depressed knew I was holding on by a thread but calling in and sitting at home just didn’t seem like the right choice either. I walked into work said hi to a few people and sat down at my computer and logged in, definitely not my usual self. Not 5min later before I could take my first call one of my supervisors came over to me asked me to go into project (clocking hours but not taking calls) he wanted to talk to me. I did what he said and we head over to a private interview office and sat down. All it took was four words, “How are you doing?” and I completely broke down. My supervisor was a very good guy, he listened to me didn’t give me any of his thoughts or theories which was extremely common. Was just a friend there for me, he asked a few questions to basically clear up the lies the media spun but that was it.. Afterwords he sent me back to my desk still pretty much a wreck to log out and sent me home on a paid day off. Sitting at home being depressed just seemed like a bad choice so I went home grabbed my camera gear and spent the rest of the day lost in the woods shooting pictures. Fairly therapeutic day spent a lot of the time just relaxing.

I can’t tell you how to best deal with the flood of emotions or lack there of, everyone is different and some people I know it was just another day. Just don’t be ashamed to unplug from the world and take a personal day, your own well being is very important. Remember there are people who understand what you are going through and are here for you if you need it.